Monday, August 20, 2012

Conferring with Carl Anderson

Last week, I was fortunate enough to learn firsthand from Carl Anderson, the guru of conferring and playfully labeled "the conferring guy." We, as students, were forced to step out of our comfort zone to write, practice, and discuss teaching points in front of our entire group of teachers! Whoa. It was hard work, but it definitely taught me how to better structure my conferences with students to include specific feedback, a specific teaching point, and a specific strategy. Here are some of the key highlights from the week... some review/some new information, but all worth noting to keep us refreshed and focused.

First, Carl challenged us to think about the assessment lenses that we view writing. What are our values in student writing? Those values will drive the way we look at student work. He challenged us to focus our conferring around what we value, not about what we notice first. We looked through the following lenses for this workshop:

Carl asked and answered, “What do we want students to do as writers? “
• We want students to initiate writing.
• We want students to write well.
• We want students to develop a writing process that works for them.

To write well, students:
• Communicate meaning.
Structure (organize) their writing.
• Write with detail .
• Give their writing voice.
• Use conventions.

Looking through the above lenses, Carl structures each conference with the following structure:
1. Compliment the writer. Be specific, focused, and brief. Come to the conference with a focus from your previous notes (ie, conferences or on-demand writing) to bring a focused teaching point to the conference.
2. State the teaching point. “Writer, today I would like to teach you…” based on what you notice from the student writing. Focus your conference on one of the above: meaning, structure, detail, voice, conventions depending on the writing process stage.
3. Provide a Metaphor. This was hard for me… Think about how this strategy or teaching point may relate to something in the students’ life. This creates a focus and lens for the writer.
4. Study a Mentor Text. State the strategy and show the mentor text for the writer to see an example about how the strategy is done.
5. Teach the Strategy. Show the student how the strategy should be completed in the student writing.
6. Practice. Make sure that the student knows the strategy that you have taught.
7. Keep notes. Write, in a record, the teaching point and goal of conference to come back and visit again.

And do it all in under 6 minutes. But wow, when you see it in action, it’s powerful. Let’s try it together!

Stuck? Carl Anderson has a series of teaching points in his series, Strategies to Teach Writers. Or, try Assessing Writers by Carl Anderson. Both will leave you feeling more confident and excited to work with young writers.

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